[Met Performance] CID:208610
Elektra {34} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/24/1966.


Metropolitan Opera House
November 24, 1966


Elektra.................Birgit Nilsson
Chrysothemis............Leonie Rysanek
Klytämnestra............Regina Resnik
Orest...................William Dooley
Aegisth.................James King
Overseer................Carlotta Ordassy
Serving Woman...........Shirley Love
Serving Woman...........Joann Grillo
Serving Woman...........Nancy Williams
Serving Woman...........Lilian Sukis
Serving Woman...........Mary Ellen Pracht
Confidant...............Elinor Harper
Trainbearer.............Mary Fercana
Young Servant...........Charles Anthony
Old Servant.............Edward Ghazal
Guardian................Gerhard Pechner

Conductor...............Thomas Schippers

Review of Conrad L. Osborne in The Financial Times (UK)


I was unable to catch up with the Metropolitan's new production of Elektra until its fifth and final performance of the season. (The brief run had nothing to do with the production's reception - like everything else at the Met. this year it had been completely sold out - but with the unavailability of Birgit Nilsson who was off to London and Oslo). Evidently the wait was all to the good for not only were several of the individual contributions more surefooted than I had been led to expect, but the whole performance came together with considerable impact. The production itself, greeted damply at its [première], seemed to me on the whole successful.

There has been a quantity of grousing about Birgit Nilsson's work in the title role - about her not really embodying Elektra, about her not making much of a stab at the dance. I know what people mean; both Astrid Varnay and Inge Borkh have recently come closer to a complete job on the role. Perhaps, in the long run, I would rather see and hear one of them. But one could roll together all the Borkhs and Varnays of the world and still be short of the Nilsson phenomenon.

I certainly never expect to hear another Elektra who can sing through the entire piece at a very substantial, consistent level of beauty and volume, then turn on an extra 20 per cent or so for the final quarter-hour and end up clearly ready to run through it again. The constant mounting of one climax after another, the ease with which both the lyrical and dramatic high points are encompassed, the continuance of true singing tone throughout the score, and the cumulative impact of what seems a virtually untapped reserve - these are unique.

The interpretation is simple, and both vocally and dramatically it aims at an overall effect rather than at details and moments. The dancing is just a stalking about. But there is nothing embarrassing in it - it does not seem to me contrived, as did her Salome. No doubt she will grow more specific in time as she has in other roles which left an initial impression of blandness. Meanwhile, the Nilsson Elektra is a piece of singing no opera lover should miss.

She is aided and abetted by two other interesting singing actresses: Leonie Rysanek (Chrysothemis) and Regina Resnik (Klytemnestra). Miss Rysanek, who is perhaps the most erratic soprano on the international scene, was hardly recognizable as the singer who had seemed on the verge of vocal collapse on the opening night of "Die Frau ohne Schatten:" the voice's familiar heft and ring were back, capped by those excitingly alive top tones. And from a vocal standpoint there is no finer Chrysothemis to-day than an on-form Rysanek. Dramatically she overdid things wildly, flailing and staggering about: one expected her to take over Elektra's lines at any moment.

Resnik's Klytemnestra has long been familiar as one of the finest portrayals the Met has to offer, and it remains that. The staging of the current production keeps her onstage a bit too long, so that the effect of her triumphant laughter is diminished through over-exposure. But this is a splendid piece of work.

The men were James King (Aegisth, neither here nor there) and William Dooley (Orest, mostly there, for the voice is too light for the part). Thomas Schippers' conducting had moments of imbalance, but was hardly the vulgar piece of work some observers have made it out to be. "Elektra" ought to be loud and with these voices there is small danger of orchestral dominance.

There are many details of the production that bother me: treatment of the serving maids as a Greek chorus, masks and all, a dreadful cowlish costume for Orest, which he sheds in the Recognition Scene with rather too much of a suggestion of Liliane Montevecchi or Lili St. Cyr. But the settings of Rudolf Heinrich I very much admire - great slabs of shiny rock above and below, with a ruined wall running diagonally across the back, all in a jet black space. It is a good place for this drama to happen, and it is magnificently lit.

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